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October 09, 2009

And the Nobel War Prize Goes to...

By: Bernard Chazelle

Years ago, a rug cleaner in LA got an early-morning phone call from Stockholm to inform him that he'd won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Oops, wrong number. The lucky man ended up on the Tonight Show: "I was surprised. I mean, I know I do a darn good job cleaning carpets. I can tell you which chemicals work best for ketchup stains, red wine spills, etc. But the Nobel Prize? I thought, maybe that's a bit excessive." There was an honest man.

Obama called himself "humbled." The correct word would be "humiliated." The only thing worse than being passed over for a prize is to get it and see your friends chuckle. After giving the prize to Kissinger, the committee lost the power to further humiliate itself but not the power to humiliate others. Poor Obama. Can't wait for our newest Peace Prize winner to announce the dispatch of 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Think of the headlines: "Nobel Laureate Threatens Annihilation of Iran." "Peace Prize Winner Says Guantanamo is Here to Stay." "Nobel Peace Winner Expands Rendition Program." The possibilities are endless.

The Nobel folks are deluding themselves if they think their prize will change Obama's policies. Oh yes, if only Alexander the Great had gotten the Peace Prize he would have stayed in Macedonia studying metaphysics with Aristotle instead of conquering Persia.

The committee's achievement will be to help turn Obama into an object of ridicule. I suspect his first reaction was: "WTF were these morons thinking?!"

— Bernard Chazelle

PS: A bit of sour grapes perhaps? You bet. With all that blogging and my pledge not to invade Tajikistan, I thought that prize was mine!

Posted at October 9, 2009 11:15 AM

I hadn't heard and couldn't figure out what you were talking about at first. All Obama-bashing aside, wtf are they thinking? He's only been in there 9 months--he hasn't ended any wars, gave a so-so speech in Cairo and seems to be backing away from any pressure on Israel. This is insane.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 9, 2009 11:44 AM

Maybe they want the Congress and the country to know that Obama's stated (not accomplished) goals are what the rest of the world expects of us.Perhaps we should consider it a wake up call.

Posted by: par4 at October 9, 2009 12:04 PM

The best line I heard in response to this was "Nobel Committee goes green and recycles Kissinger's award."

Posted by: Bruce F at October 9, 2009 12:07 PM

SOMETIMES, not very often, as pity is an UNUSUAL emotion for me, when working the carnival games, if a sucker had already run through the rent and was working on the grocery money, I'd just let him BUY THE PRIZE, so his kids would at least have lunch money for the week.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 9, 2009 12:12 PM

The Nobel committee has just given the well-merited finger to America's Republican Party. If there were a Nobel un-prize for posing the most egregious threat to the peace of the people of the world. they'd have given it to George W Bush every year.

Posted by: joel hanes at October 9, 2009 12:26 PM

The Nobel folks are deluding themselves if they think their prize will change Obama's policies.

You're right. It probabaly won't work but that's got to be what they were thinking. What other explanation can there be?

Posted by: cemmcs at October 9, 2009 12:31 PM

The Nobel folks are deluding themselves if they think their prize will change Obama's policies.

Oh no, all those folks are just politicians. They know what they are doing. They , being European elites, are just sucking up to their new Master.

Fuck Nobel prize and fuck Nobel prize committee . Are there anyone on Left who doesn't regard it as a joke and a rather bizarre institution. It's better they are making a bigger fool of themselves each year.

Who really gives a damn to these really silly prizes ?

Posted by: Ajit at October 9, 2009 12:37 PM

Seriously, Obama was a great choice.

Two categories of peace prize recipient; the individual worker for peace given and the war monger who gets it as an ego bribe after they take a step in the right direction. The former prizes are given in recognition and help fundraising, the latter are used to try and create peace.

Obama deserves the prize for dropping the missile shield in Poland. That was a small thing with potentially huge consequences to drag the world back into a Cold War. The committee is hoping he'll be nudged to do more like refuse to back the entry of Georgia into NATO.

As is typical with type 2 recipients Obama is currently killing people by the thousand in various parts of the world. The prize should not be though to sleight those people. it's a pragmatic choice. It's the mass killers and war criminals who can do the most for peace by simply not being themselves for a few moments. An ego boost can do that; it can make you think, "do I deserve this?" and even a monster like Obama or any other US presdient can think as a result, "maybe I could not be such an ass" just a little bit.

Inspired choice IMO. Seriosuly.

Posted by: DavidByron at October 9, 2009 12:46 PM

You mean Macedonia, not Athens.

Posted by: Jay Gold at October 9, 2009 12:50 PM

Reminds one of the old maxim. Awards are like haemorrhoids, sooner or later every asshole gets one. It seems to have been sooner this time.

Posted by: empty at October 9, 2009 01:01 PM

thanks Jay! (given the touchiness of the issue, you may have saved my life.)

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at October 9, 2009 01:01 PM

My first thought when I heard about it, like everyone elses', no doubt, was "no, not possible--it's the Onion."

Justin Raimondo's post 9-11 rhetorical flourish turns out to be true--it really IS Bizarro World, the entire world turned upside down.

When George Orwell wrote '1984,' few could penetrate the riddle of Big Brother's paradoxical slogan "War is Peace." Like Cassandra, they were unable to comprehend the terrible reality the phrase expresses, or see that mendacity and inversion are the lifeblood of Imperialism. Our eyes remain wide shut when confronting the bloody toll Imperialism has inflicted on the Third World.

So warmongers and murderers are given peace awards, and peace activists are spied on, arrested, executed. As the Wicked Witch said as she was melting, "What a world!"

Posted by: Oarwell at October 9, 2009 01:11 PM

My first reaction on reading the news was of being "stunned". Then it was sadness and anger at the committee for dishonouring the lives of civilians who have been killed by our bombers and drones and the soldiers who have died and who have been made disabled and their families whose lives have been destroyed.

The Nobel Committee decided that words are enough to deserve the prize, no matter what the deeds. What a shame! Torture, renditions, indefinite detentions will continue. May be the committtee was thinking, "Ask not what he can do for his country and the world but let us decide on the basis of the polls where he is viewed favourably by the world at large"!!!

ps Prof Chazelle, sorry you lost out though I know, you were one of the 205 candidates nominated this year.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 9, 2009 01:13 PM

DB: How does turning Obama into a butt of jokes work as an ego boost?

Giving him the prize is patronizing, condescending, embarrassing. Makes him a laughing stock. I almost feel sorry for the guy.

The smartest political move would be to turn it down.

(and pass it on to me.)

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at October 9, 2009 01:30 PM


I like the gist of your contrarian argument, but I think it's wrong to accuse Obama of being a war-monger. Just like Kissinger, he's a rational monster dedicated to the American imperial project who rationalizes the mass-murder, death and destruction that running the American empire necessitates by convincing themselves those actions are in the pursuit of the "greater good", i.e., for the good of the American empire, which in turn is good for the world. Like Kissinger, he doesn't particularly get his kicks from the mass-murder of brown people the way most Republicans and even Democrats do. It's just the mass-murder doesn't particularly bother him or prevent people like him or Kissinger from sleeping at night.

So my point is that your argument that this award might make Obama behave as less of a "war-monger" or less of an ass is flawed. Obama was never a war-monger; he was just a smarter, saner imperialist in the mold of George H. W. Bush. He even explcitly expressed admiration for George Bush the First's foreign policy, and plainly said he was hoping to emulate Bush Sr's foreign policy. His idiotic Obama-maniac followers and American liberals simply refused to take the man at his word.

So Obama will continue to behave exactly as he always has behaved, which is to be a calm, cool, collected, rational monster who will convince himself he's pursuing policies of world peace by enabling the goals of the "benevolent" American empire.

Do you really think Kissinger thinks he's a monster? don't think so. He sleeps well at night convincing himself that he had to carpet bomb IndoChina and slaughter millions to ensure America was entering talks with the Viet Cong from a position of strength. Thus, in Henry Kissinger's and in many American historian's minds, Kissinger helped to enable world peace.

Posted by: hv at October 9, 2009 01:36 PM

When i first heard I assumed it was a headline from the latest issue of something like The Onion....I really did but I should know better.-Tony

Posted by: tony at October 9, 2009 01:43 PM

A very good analysis...

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 9, 2009 01:44 PM

if you think about it, given what Obama has not YET done to bring peace of ANY kind to the world, anywhere--along with what he already has done to NOT TO END any of the wars in which we are now engaged--makes about a much sense as awarding the prize in Medicine, or Biology, to a first-year med student based on their lab reports and their grades in high-school chemistry.

Posted by: Woody at October 9, 2009 02:05 PM

NE I don't really care if US presidents get off on war. I only care about to what extent they commit war. Clearly Obama is a war criminal. Presumably he doesn't see himself that way because he's psychotic like almost all US rulers. But even sane people tend to see themselves as generally good people.

I think where appeals to morals fall on deaf ears with psychotics, an appeal to their ego can work.

Posted by: DavidByron at October 9, 2009 02:16 PM

woody: The econ prize hasn't been awarded yet. on the basis of making the world safe for bankers, i'd say obama is a shoo-in.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at October 9, 2009 02:16 PM

Rupa Shah,

thanks for the link and all, but I didn't find that "good analysis" at all. It's a pretty right-wing view of how the Nobel Peace Prize will be a burden to Obama because his alleged "diplomatic" gestures to Iran and to the Palestinians, for example, haven't been reciprocated, and therefore for the good of the world, Obama and America might have to use the "fist in his pocket" for the good of the world, i.e., slaughter and subjugate the darkies who won't acquiesce on bended knee before the American Empire.

I mean seriously.. did you miss these 2 paragraphs:

In contrast, who has accepted Obama's outstretched hand today? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? The Taliban? North Korea's Kim Jong-Il? Russia's Vladimir Putin or Dmitry Medvedev? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? None of them. Nowhere is there any success in sight.

It is, therefore, very likely that Obama will reconsider and revise his diplomatic initiatives during his term in office -- he might even scrap some of them all together. Perhaps then he might resort to measures other than hackneyed speeches. Maybe then we would overlook the fist in his pocket which he keeps there in case his other, outstretched hand doesn't have the desired effect. Will he need to return the prize if he takes that fist out?

Underlying that whole article is the unquestioned premise that America's interests and demands for acquiescence from Iran, Russia and the Palestinians are moral, correct, and reasonable, and it is the other parties who are being unreasonable, and so poor America will have to reluctantly, and with great sorrow, use the "fist in the pocket".. all for the good of the world, of course.

It's typical Western elite opinion bullshit.

Posted by: hv at October 9, 2009 02:17 PM

You would have been a much better choice, Bernard. Hmmm, that doesn't sound like much a compliment at all, does it? How's this? You would actually have been a good choice. Yeah, that's better.

Posted by: cemmcs at October 9, 2009 02:22 PM


As I said above:

So Obama will continue to behave exactly as he always has behaved, which is to be a calm, cool, collected, rational monster who will convince himself he's pursuing policies of world peace by enabling the goals of the "benevolent" American empire.

Again to repeat myself, what you fail to understand is that your definition of "not being an ass" is not the same as Obama's definition of "not being an ass". For Obama, and for anyone who genuinely believes in the cant of American Exceptionalism, pursuing the goals of the American Empire is pursuing the goals of world peace.

And to further cement my point, here's John Caruso:

No, really: Barack Obama just used his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to reiterate his threats against Iran.
Posted by: hv at October 9, 2009 02:32 PM

At no point did I use my definition of not being an ass or compare it with Obama's.

At any rate its fun to watch all the heads exploding over this, especially on the far right.

Posted by: DavidByron at October 9, 2009 02:55 PM

The last sitting US president to receive the Nobel Peace Prize was Woodrow Wilson, whose achievements included getting us into WWI and establishing the League Of Nations.

In that light, awarding it to Obama is positively an insult!

I do, of course, wonder whether he got it more because of the war effort in Iraq or Afghanistan - or maybe because of his support for the ongoing siege of Gaza? Or maybe it was for failing to persuade the Israelis to quit building settlements on property stolen from Palestinians the West Bank?
So many achievements to consider.

Posted by: Dena Shunra at October 9, 2009 02:57 PM

Just another billboard on The Highway To Hell.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 9, 2009 03:02 PM

It's "a call to action."

Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson got it too. Peacemaking isn't what comes to mind when I think of those boys either.

Chazelle, do you really believe that Obomba could be humiliated by this? I think his followers will love it, and he surely likes that. 2012 is just around the corner after all. I don't think the people who see the grotesque irony of this award were going to send in 100 dollar campaign gifts anyway. Can a President feel shame?

But psychology is only for light discussion, and in regard to an earlier comment I reassert that whether so and so bombs reluctantly, cold-bloodedly, or with sadistic glee, is irrelevant. What matters is action.

Posted by: Marcus at October 9, 2009 03:08 PM

Right, shame won't bother him. But ridicule? Comedy writers must be delighted. The scripts will write themselves.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at October 9, 2009 04:07 PM

Who the fuck cares how Harry Kissinger sleeps at night? The only way he should be sleeping is 8 feet underground beneath the bones of the Chilean, Cambodian, and Indonesian civilians he helped massacre.

Life would be comedic if it weren't so fucking tragic.

Posted by: alec at October 9, 2009 04:15 PM

I was thinking of the whole article and not just selected paras.

The Nobel Peace Prize has come too early for Barack Obama. The US president cannot point to any real diplomatic successes to date and there are few prospects of any to come.

Barack Obama, who was awarded the prize on Friday for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples," in the words of the Nobel committee.
With all respect to both Obama as a person and to his office: Is that really enough?

Yet Obama is just getting started. Awarding him the Nobel Prize now is like giving a medal to a marathon runner who has just managed the first few kilometers.

The most surprise at Oslo's decision will be felt in the US itself. That is because the man who was singled out for the prize on Friday is not the American president, a man who has to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions at home, but a global symbolic figure who during the 2008 election campaign came to embody the hopes and desires of people around the world. Obama even laid claim to these almost superhuman expectations.

The joy over the awarding of the Nobel Prize this year would be far greater if it paid tribute to concrete results rather than just reflecting enthusiasm about diplomatic efforts which may be very laudable but which are also, to date, fruitless.

So, on the whole, the article was critical of the decision to award Obama the Peace Prize. Also, I am not politically as savy as many of you but I can not agree with your "unquestioned premise" without reservations.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 9, 2009 04:16 PM

Addendum: "Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Prize."

Posted by: alec at October 9, 2009 04:18 PM

This newsflash is the most amusing Nobel Peace Prize news I've had since I picked up the paper one morning some years ago and saw that someone I had used to date for a little while had won one. (Not Nelson Mandela, Henry Kissinger, or Menacham Begin, but otherwise I'm not naming names.) Seriously, that was funny, and this is almost as good.

The second funniest thing about it all is scanning these comments and seeing that DavidByron seems to be arguing with me and saying that Obama is a war criminal even before I have posted a comment. It's nice to be predictable, I guess.

The third funniest thing is seeing the wingnuts and whackadoodles of the Right go bonkers elsewhere.

And I'm sorry to say, the fourth funniest thing is seeing you guys go bonkers in the other direction. Relax. It's not like nothing this stupid has ever happened before.

Seriously, all funniness aside, it was a dumb decision by the Norwegians, who are alas among my people. (No wonder we tell jokes about ourselves.) It wasn't even something Obama wanted, and he had to spend the morning trying to quickly come up with a speech that would downplay it and make it less problematic for him. I assume that's why he threw in some tough talk, and I just hope that's all he thinks he has to do now to look tougher. There is only so much that his speech can do to counter the image problem this gives him with his professional Tough Guys. The Generals will be joking about it at the Pentagon for a long time, and it won't make it easier for him to disagree with them. I wish somebody in Oslo had given that a thought for a moment or two.

P.S. Lots of prior winners weren't exactly pacifists or humanitarians, but some of you guys consistently do Woodrow Wilson a disservice. I think that's Chomsky's doing. The Great One is a bit dumb on Wilson and JFK and probably FDR too, though I don't remember much from him on FDR. Woodrow Wilson had plenty of flaws, but trying to end war was an idea I like. Don't you?

Posted by: N E at October 9, 2009 04:47 PM

Oarwell and I must have minds that run in the same direction (gulp!). Here's what I wrote on my blog this morning:
"I just saw on the news that Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Here's how Robert Sheer put it:
'The Nobel Committee has interrupted the president’s meditations on whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan by awarding him the Peace Prize...."
I thought this was mildly amusing, and looked for the reference to "The Onion" or some other satirical publication. Didn't find it. Hey, were the editors asleep? What was the joke?
Then I clicked on The NYTimes.
Okay, it's official: There's no reason in the world to ever think for a fleeting second that there's hope for this planet. I just wonder who was reached at the Prize committee and how the deal was made. It had to be more than money offered--maybe an ambassadorship--but no, these aren't Americans. Well, no matter.
Flash! George W. Bush has been named a member of Mensa, the society that recognizes superior intellects.

Posted by: Rosemary Molloy at October 9, 2009 05:04 PM

The Economics Prize is in, given to a first year grad student with no published papers.

I think there was a mixup, the kid was supposed to get the Peace Prize for not bombing anyone, and Obama was supposed to get the Economics prize for his contributions to Wall Street.

Posted by: Marcus at October 9, 2009 05:51 PM


The great one dislikes Wilson because Wilson was exceptionally racist, even for his time. Or so I gather.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 9, 2009 06:15 PM

Wilson flipping on his campaign rhetoric and using a massive propaganda machine, along with imprisoning pacifists, to coerce the US into entering WWI was a nasty little trick too. But, uh, that was the War to End All Wars. Is fighting a war to end war really a credible attempt at peace? It sounds just like the bullshit justifications that warmongers always use. Alexander was trying to bring peace to the world as soon as he could own it all, so was the Roman Empire as those barbarians attacked them, and Hitler responding to Polish hostilities, or America the Beautiful stopping Saddam Hussein from using his WMD etc.

Woodrow Wilson tried to end war, can you say that with a straight face?

Posted by: Marcus at October 9, 2009 06:44 PM

Donald Johnson:

If Chomsky thinks that, he doesn't know what he is talking about. Woodrow Wilson was less racist than his time, and certainly less racist than Teddy Roosevelt and Taft and scads of others too. That being said, Wilson's cabinet was full of real Jim Crow segregationists, because he was a Democrat and at that time so was the South. It wasn't possible for a Democrat to win the Presidency at that time without the South. Consequently, Wilson came into office with political debts to Southerns who wouldn't drink from the same faucet or use the same bathroom as a black person, and who thought it was okay for mobs to torture and murder them too. That wasn't true of Wilson or probably most Northerners (though anyone who thinks the North wasn't racist should read Sundown Towns).

Anyway, rather than tell his cabinet and their staffs to all get used to nonsegregated facilities or quit, Wilson agreed to segregate the federal government. That wasn't a good thing, and he certainly didn't distinguish himself by agreeing to it, so he gets a bad mark from me for typical political cowardice for that, but not for racism. You can decide for yourself whether that makes you like him more or less. I go back and forth on that. The thing I hold most against him was his stubborn, obnoxious refusal to pardon Debs, who was clearly a better man than he was. The prosectuion wasn't really Wilson's doing, but the pardon was entirely his decision and he had nothing to lose by granting it before he left office. But he refused, so a few years later Harding granted it, making the American Legion and fascists of the day go nuts.

The thing Wilson deserves so much credit for in my book is trying to avoid World War I, and trying to end war among great powers at Versailles afterwards. Both efforts were genuine and extremely difficult, and in both instances he was repeatedly betrayed by House and Lansing and the military. I give Presidents lots of credit for trying to avoid wars and end them even if they don't succeed, though of course success is better. None of that means Wilson was perfect, by any means. He was just a damn sight better than Chomsky admits, which is also true of FDR and JFK.

The thing Chomsky blames Wilson for that you didn't mention is of course all the interventions in Mexico and Haiti. I don't give Wilson great marks on that count either, but he was maneuvered into bad positions by the Navy and the State Department and the American ambassadors in most of those instances. As Barack Obama is learning, once you find yourself in charge of an Empire, it's not so easy to avoid being an imperialist. To his credit, Wilson tried to create an international order that would make that effort easier in the future, but he failed. I can't stand Teddy Roosevelt or Henry Cabot Lodge Or Robert Lansing or Ralph van Deman of military intelligence because they are largely responsible for the failure.

Posted by: N E at October 9, 2009 06:53 PM

Wilson's racism

Yes, I know. Reason Magazine. I'm too lazy to look for another link, but I've read this sort of thing about him and will tentatively assume it's not made up.

I didn't mention Haiti because I don't want to get into a long argument. I forgot about Mexico.

As for TR, he was a war criminal as far as the Philippine War was concerned (covering up atrocities in Bush-like fashion) and a crazed militarist in general, but I'd always heard he was relatively less racist towards blacks (Native Americans are another story) than many white politicians of his time. But I don't know.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 9, 2009 07:03 PM


You like the word "bullshit," so I'll give you an example of it. All that stuff you said about Wilson and WWI--you very obviously don't have the slightest idea what you are talking about. If you don't at least read a few books to try to find out some facts, and with an open mind, what you say can only be bullshit. It may be either left wing or independent or green or right wing, but the one thing it can't escape being is bullshit. Of course, nobody has to know about everything, so that's fine unless you actually think the bullshit is factual more or less just because you say it. If you get in that habit, you'll probably eventually end up a fan of Sean Hannity.

Posted by: N E at October 9, 2009 07:08 PM

NE, you are clearly a very disturbed person, and I'm not going to get into a shouting match with you. The "you don't know what you are talking about, read some books," argument is as pathetic as they come. Blaming poor Wilson for just be a pragmatic coward like all Democrats and not a bloodthirsty Republican shows once again your fanatical allegiance to your team and nothing else.

Like Chomsky is "dumb" when it comes to certain people who all happened to be Democrat Presidents. But I suppose he's quite factual in your mind when criticizing Republicans. So is this some bizarre glitch in Chomsky's brain, or the result of your fetishism?

It is not any more excusable for a person to have been a racist a hundred years ago than now. The human mind has not changed even though the microwave oven was invented. Nor is it justifiable for Jefferson to have owned and raped slaves because he lived in the 1700s. If you "read books" from the past, or I should say, paid attention to what you are reading rather than just twisting everything into your fandom psychosis, you would see that there have been many people throughout history that were able to resist the prejudices of their environment to as great a degree as anyone today can.

Woodrow Wilson was a virulent racist. His actions demonstrate that. What he secretly believed in his heart of hearts is irrelevant, even though you have access to this secret knowledge through your Donker Decoder ring.

He pushed through and signed the Sedition Act, a wildly tyrannical move, under which Eugene Debs was convicted, among many others. As you say, he wasn't "really" responsible for Debs going to prison, just negligence, just a pragmatic coward, as if that were so great even if it were true.

Not "really." He just promoted and signed a law that forbade people to "willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States...."

Just that, a little minor sacrifice for the plebes to make in honor of the Good War. Oh, I mean the Great War.

He went before Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Germany. What part of that do you not understand? The US joining in WWI is as vicious, cynical, and greedy an act as has ever been committed. Wilson, after asking for and accepting the responsibility of POTUS, went before Congress and asked to declare war on a country that was not attacking the US.

But he didn't REALLY want to, he was tricked or whatever, he was just a pragmatic coward, he didn't even say, "Bring it on!"

Posted by: Marcus at October 9, 2009 08:07 PM

Donald Johnson:

Thanks for the link. That's an interesting article, and certainly disgusting. It's hard to like Wilson much reading it, but it's harder to like our entire history. Almost everybody in the past turns out to have these ugly blemishes. One of the reasons I cut Presidents some slack is that running a country so full of corruption and racism and militarism and greed isn't easy, and it's really tough when it turns out almost nobody in your own administration turns out to be very loyal or trustworthy.

Wilson was no hero on Haiti, but WWI had started and there was supposedly a threat of the Germans seizing a port there, which the Navy said would have endangered the Canal. Wilson already had TR running around saying he was basically a traitor because he wasn't preparing the country for war, and ignoring the Navy on that would have probably cost him the election in 1916. As you probably know, he only won by a hair anyway. As for Mexico, more or less the same problem existed. Ambassador Wilson (no relation) put President Wilson in a tough spot with regard to Vera Cruz, and Doheny and the other oil men owned not only most of Mexico but most of Congress and the cabinet too. (Lansing later went to work for Doheny.) Woodrow Wilson didn't try to do the bidding of Big Money, but he ended up backed into that position more than he would have liked. The diplomats and military men and oil men and bankers know how to create situations that leave a President only bad choices to choose from. It doesn't have to be as obvious as putting munitions on a passenger liner and waiting for a German sub to sink it, though obvious can unfortunately work too. (That wasn't enough to get Wilson to declare war, it should be noted.)

You have TR pegged right. He famously invited Booker T. Washington to the White House for dinner, infuriating the Southern racists, but they were all Democrats at that time. Still, TR's mother was from the South, and he later said that he had done the wrong thing by inviting Washington to the White House for dinner because it had so upset the white population of the South. As for TR's attitudes towards blacks in general, I doubt they differed much from Wilson's. But one aspect of history people don't consider is that the GOP looked at integration and civil rights for blacks as an opportunity, not a problem. For example, Earl Warren was a California Republican, and not one who distinguished himself for his conduct in defeating Upton's Sinclair's socialist gubernatorial campaign in California in 1934 or in his treatment of the Japanese during WWII. He became a villified liberal in the eyes of the public later only because of his supposed courage on an issue that for him required no courage--the treatment of blacks in the Democratic South. Warren probably saw right from wrong clearly in that situation because he had no self-interest impeding him from clearly seeing it there. In fact, as we know, the civil rights movement destroyed the Democratic party's hold on the South. Ask yourself why a Republican politician turned Supreme Court Justice gets such credit for courage in deciding a case in a way that severely damaged the opposition party. Warren would have been courageous if he had refused to put the Japanese residents of California in concentration camps, or not spread lies about Sinclair a decade earlier, or refused to sign off on his whitewash report about the JFK assassination much later. Deciding Brown took no real courage from him, especially with the Eisenhower State Department filing a friend-of-the-court brief urging him to do it.

Anyway, sorry, I have digressed. Blacks had good reason to complain about Wilson and his administration, and I hope that if I had been around I would have joined them.

Posted by: N E at October 9, 2009 08:09 PM

Bernard Chazelle -- as good as anything I've read. I was not exactly stunned because I was certain that the YES MEN had struck satirical gold again. Alas, I was wrong. It is baffling. Maybe the problem is that we have a different concept of peace than the committee. Maybe they just really hate GW Bush.Gore was a bit of a stretch and maybe Pinter and Krugman, too. Baffling, really. The Kissinger thing was horrible. Brandt, too, for that matter. Really, wtf?

Posted by: drip at October 9, 2009 08:29 PM


There were a whole bunch of other people in Wilson's administration, with names and interests and agendas of their own, and if you don't know who they were or what they did, you don't really know anything about Wilson's administration or why anything happened in it, let alone know enough to have so much attitude. What I said has nothign to do with Wilson's "heart of hearts." Give yourself a little quiz on who the members of Wilson's cabinet were. If you can't name them, drop the outrage and quit acting like you're an expert on him, at least until you know the bare minimum of facts.

People take this same ridiculously simple approach even now with respect to the Obama administration, like there are a hundred thousand little Obamas in the administration all of whom are him and doing President Obama's bidding, conveying their knowledge and acts to him instantaneously like some sort of microeconomists assumption of how the world works. I think it's really dumb. That's not how anything works in the world, let alone the government bureaucracy and the National Security State, which have powerful factions with their own agendas. But understanding any of that apparently interferes with the self-gratification of ranting, which of course may be fun but accomplishes absolutely nothing and leads to nothing that ever will.

Posted by: N E at October 9, 2009 09:09 PM


i think the Committee might as well have openly awarded the prize to "Barack Obama for not being George W. Bush". That's really about all he has done so far, objectively speaking.

Posted by: N E at October 9, 2009 09:15 PM

Seems like they gave it to him in the hopes that he would be pressured into pursuing more humanitarian policies, particularly with regard to Afghanistan and climate change.

Posted by: Clint at October 9, 2009 09:39 PM

ASFAIK the population hated Wilson at the end of his 2nd term, like they hated Truman at the end of his, and they hated Bush2 (the three worst Presidents ever, each with a negative, murderous legacy that still is with us, to boot).

The real Woodrow Wilson was such a horrorshow, I can't believe anyone defends him anymore (I mean anyone outside the media and academia). Not just a virulent racist, a warmonger, and a violater of civil liberties, Wilson was a bought and paid for useful idiot.

He was a creature of the financial industry (like Obama is now). Bankers identified him as useful early on when he was head of Princeton and greased him up first as NJ Gov then to the White House.

He gave them what they wanted the most, too. First the income tax, and then the Fed. The US has been at war, more or less, since Wilson's time and this is no accident. I know that sounds like what Ron Paul says, but that part is true. (and I am no conservative or rwer).

Back in the nineties I read a lot of things about Wilson and I assure everyone that Woodrow Wilson was quite possibly the most crappy person ever.


Posted by: Henry at October 9, 2009 09:40 PM

The Peace Prize committee just dug up the corpse of satire so they could kill it again.

At least, I think that's what they're doing to it. Not sure I want to look.

Posted by: RobWeaver at October 9, 2009 10:37 PM


That's a load of BS about Wilson. That's not to say decent writers haven't gotten Wilson wrong. The first thing I ever read about Wilson or McKinley was by Walter Karp, and he got them both wrong, and I still like him because he meant well and wasn't just writing for public consumption. Karp's opinion of Wilson was the opinion I held of him, without reservation, until I decided to examine the issue for myself well into my adulthood. At that time I agreed with you, though, frankly, without the ridiculous unfounded certainty of opinion that you hold. Karp flubbed, probably because he was a journalist and not a historian. I'm not a historian either, but I don't like loose ends, and some of these questions have become important to me.

To understand what was good about Wilson, and there was much, you should read Thomas Knock's excellent book To End All Wars, or failing that at least John Milton Cooper's Breaking the Heart of the World, as well as Cooper's dual biography of Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson, The Warrior and the Priest. Read Joseph Tumulty's memoir, and Edith Wilson Galt's too. Read Robert Lansing's books to get a feel for what a snake he was. Read about what the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Navy was like then, preferably through Jeffrey Dorwarts books and, even better, Peter Karsten's excellent book The Naval Aristocracy. Read the correspondence of Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt and what they did to push Wilson into war and brand him a traitor. Read about the policy of the National City Bank, especially in Mexico, and of Doheny and the oil companies. Read the memoirs of Pershing and books about Ralph van Deman and Marlborough Churchill in the army's Military Intelligence Division, which went in force to Versailles to protect US security interests with an agenda not. Read Rowan's works on espionage to see the open defiance of Wilson's orders not to maintain surveillance on liberals and socialists. Read Colin Simpson's book about the Lusitania and the disloyalty of Lansing in connection with aid to the British. Read a biography or two of House and his ultimate breach of loyalty to Wilson at Versaille, for which Edith Wilson never forgave him. Read Josephus Daniels' memoir about the Wilson administration (two volumes), and read Daniels' correspondence with his subordinate and friend FDR about their time riding herd over the navy. Read about Mitchell Palmer and how he took advantage of Wilson's absence at Versailles and then illness to get the Red Scare going with Lansing's help, and how reactionaries like the first attorney general, Gregory, and the Postmaster General, Burleson, created war hysteria that Wilson couldn't check, and knew he wouldn't be able to check even before the Zimmerman Telegram forced his hand and his protracted efforts to get the British and Germans to negotiate a peace failed.

Read about the military's deep disgust with Wilson's insufficient anticommunism at Versailles, culminating at a critical moment, on April 3, in an illness that his physician initially said was poisoning, and if you fail to comprehend what the military was like then (and to a lesser extent now, though with different villains) read Joseph Bendarsky's book The Jewish Threat about the fascist leanings of our officers corps at that time. Power was held by reactionaries then who made Wilson seem positively modern, liberal, and humane, with ugly eugenic beliefs no different from what came to prevail in Germany a decade later. But, of course, knowing all this might interfere with having Wilson be the villain of the story.

If that's not enough, there's more to read than that. You can explore in the books of Michael Kettle and David Foglesong why Wilson was insufficiently anticommunist in the eyes of the military and the GOP, which were nearly as indistinguishable then as now. And you can see how Henry Cabot Lodge undercut Wilson at every turn, especially at Versailles, making WWII almost inevitable twenty years later.

Woodrow Wilson was the only leader of any great power that tried to keep his nation out of WWI, or who tried to shape the peace with an eye toward the interests of the world as a whole rather than to serve his own country. That Wilson held capitalist, free trade views and was not a man of the exceptional character of Debs is true enough. I do not contend that he was. But he was no villain, and in some respects he was very admirable. If your view of human beings does not permit both those things to be true, your view of humanity is constricted.

That Wilson could not simply defy the banks and do whatever he wanted is of course regrettable, but the Morgan interests controlled the whole country at the time, and Pierpont Morgan disliked Wilson, as did most of the very rich. Morgan certainly never supported Wilson. That Wilson's administration created the Fed is no great credit to it, but the Fed was an improvement over what existed before it, which was an economy run by Morgan himself, which impeded political development and had become economically dangerous as well.

Your opinion of Wilson does a disservice to him.

Posted by: N E at October 9, 2009 10:49 PM

Neil Sheehan also confirms Wilson's racism in "A Bright Shining Lie"--he describes how Ho Chi Minh thought Wilson was serious about self determination, but in Sheehan's words, it "applied only to the Czechs and Poles and other white peoples of Eastern Europe who had been under German and Austro-Hungarian domination, not to the brown or yellow peoples of Asia or to the blacks of Africa. Wilson's fifth point on colonial claims meant in practice the divvying up among the victors of the German colonies in Africa and Asia."

I'm not sure that ranting in favor of old dead white racist guys actually accomplishes much more than ranting against them, not that I have anything against ranting, a highly underrated activity outside of blog comment sections, IMO. It's a way of killing time while cooling off from jogging, for one thing. I wasn't going to do anything important otherwise, except maybe put out some cat food.

As for Obama and other wonderful Democrats, the thing to be said in their favor is that they are less insane than the far right militarists. Taking him at his word, Obama isn't an antiwar type, just a guy smart enough to realize, along with a great many other mainstream foreign policy experts, that going into Iraq would be a huge strategic blunder. (Blunder, not crime. People at that level don't think in terms of American wars being crimes.) And openly defending "harsh interrogation techniques" is bad PR for the US--Cheney couldn't care less about that, but Obama clearly does.

Those are the differences I see.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 9, 2009 11:13 PM

"The thing Wilson deserves so much credit for in my book is trying to avoid World War I, and trying to end war among great powers at Versailles afterwards."

Let us know what book is it? Simply cannot believe that Executive Office of the President of USA trying to avoid WWI.

Read here how he tried to avid WWI:

Posted by: Anon at October 9, 2009 11:50 PM



"Your opinion of Wilson does a disservice to him."

Perhaps this is just a turn of phrase. But I think it is more revealing. I think it means you feel that ordinary citizens are supposed to serve the memory of former Presidents. You know, to talk about them in a good light.

Well, no. I don't serve Wilson's memory. Not now. Not ever. Quite the reverse. He is supposed to serve us, the people.


You called what I wrote BS. But the few things you included are precisely that. For instance you say Wilson

"tried to keep his nation out of WWI"

First of all it is not 'his nation'. It is 'our nation'. Got that, Mr elitist?

second, Wilson entered the war. And he did not have to. So when you say "he tried not to", that is just BS. He did. He did not have to.

btw at the time, the USA had a tradition not to enter foreign wars (this wise advice from the founders is typically spun in history books as foolish 'isolationism'). And sure enough, Wilson's meddling set the stage for WWII. He should have just let them fight it out.

Posted by: Henry at October 10, 2009 12:05 AM


Obama Wins Gorbachev's Peace Prize

I've said it here before: Obama is the new Gorbachev, the smiling face behind the crumbling imperial façade, the personable, non-threatening loser. Gorbachev got his Nobel Consolation Prize in October 1990; a little less than a year later the USSR was no more and he was unemployed.

In awarding him the Peace Prize, the Nobel committee actually did some good: by reaffirming his legitimacy as a leader, it helped to weaken the hand of the conservative forces within Russia, which later staged an unsuccessful coup in an effort to reclaim control of the dissolving empire.

Gorbachev certainly deserves credit for making sure that the USSR disintegrated with a whimper and not a bang. May Barak Obama be just as successful in completing the dissolution of the USA, quietly and without any undue bloodshed. Moving forward, I wish him a long and happy unemployment.

Gorbachev wins Nobel peace prize

By Jonathan Steele in Moscow
Tuesday 16 October 1990

"President Gorbachev yesterday won the world's biggest consolation prize. He took the Nobel peace award for losing the Cold War, becoming the first communist leader to win the trophy worth £360,000 after dismantling the system his party spent 70 years creating.

"The Nobel prize committee in Oslo did not quite put it that way. It cited Mr Gorbachev for "his leading role in the peace process" which today characterises parts of the world....

"In Moscow, hit by shortages of basic foods and consumer goods, the mood was more reserved. When the president of the Supreme Soviet, Anatoly Lukyanov, announced the news to MPs, they applauded for barely five seconds. Gennady Gerasimov, the foreign ministry spokesman, said: "We must remember, this certainly was not the prize for economics..."

...Nor is it the prize for economics this time around! If anything, the financial hole the USSR left behind was a whole lot smaller.

Now, some people think that Obama isn't doing a good job. He isn't. That's because it's not a good job. It's not even a bad job. It's a downright terrible job. But somebody's got to do it, and that somebody just won a Nobel prize, so he must be doing something right.

Posted by: Anon at October 10, 2009 12:18 AM

Donald Johnson:

If I said that Wilson had no touch of racism at all, then I have been drinking too much or too little, one or the other. Almost EVERY white person seems to have been racist against the East Asians back then, with the Japanese being thought of the most favorably of them all (almost European, but not quite). Yet even FDR, according to Michael Schaller, expressed interest in cross-breeding the Japanese with docile Pacific Islanders to eliminite their nasty warmongering qualities. It hurts me that brave old FDR, wily foe of the rich and occasional outsmarter of generals, conceiver of the Second Bill of Rights and friend of the common man, thought something that ignorant. But alas he apparently did, just like everybody's embarrassing old grandpa.

Does that mean I feel about FDR like I do about Douglas Macarthur or Curtis Lemay or Allen Dulles or J. Edgar Hoover or hundreds of other reactionary racist warmongers who scoffed at equality as a fool's notion? No. I'll leave that to Gore Vidal.

I'm not saying Wilson had the power to bring heaven on earth, or that he thought he did. Nobody thought it was possible to end all wars forever, just wars among the great powers of Europe, which every Caucasian then equated to civilization. A military supporter of Wilson like General Tasker Bliss went on to work for disarmament for years after Versailles, but he still said that he approved of wars against uncivilized people, which he seemed to think were necessary for civilized peoples to not lose their manly vigor. Bliss and the other proponents of arms limitation and a League of Nations just didn't want the civilized powers to destroy themselves and kill millions of their own young men. I commend the half-way sentiment while wishing they could have finished the thought.

As for Sheehan's claim that Wilson wanted self-determination to be limited to the liberated German colonies, that really makes no sense, even if "in practice" that happened. Wilson simply didn't have the power to end the British empire, or even the French empire, or for that matter even the Portuguese empire, which lasted until the mid 1970s. I'm sure Ho Chi Minh thought Wilson was a great disappointment, just as African Americans thought he was, because it's pretty disappointing when someone recognizes a general principle and then ignores its application to you for no good reason. There aren't many better grounds for disappointment than that. But when somebody wants you and your descendants to be killed or kept in bondage forever, which is what many people thought Africans and Asians deserved, that's not just disappointing, that's a legitimate cause for hatred. That's what the truly vicious racists wanted back in those times, and in fact throughout the South de facto slavery continued to exist. See Slavery by Another Name by Blackburn.

Posted by: N E at October 10, 2009 12:26 AM


Whether or not you are an American, which I don't know (but hey, call it "our nation" if you are and feel that's important) you seem unlikely to have been alive when Wilson died in 1923, so I have a hard time feeling that he was supposed to be serving you. And even if all that were true, and even if I'm an elitist (which I'm not except in the silly sense that I don't think all opinons are equal), your opinion does Wilson a disservice. You know what that means, so don't quibble.

Your whole opinion of how Wilson didn't have to get us in the war but did amounts to about three very conclusory statements, none of which is supported by any facts or research or anything else. I suppose someone could defend that position, but not very well in my opinion, and you haven't even begun. You are clinging to a position that is wrong because you like it for reasons unrelated to its truth, presumably political reasons. Wilson certainly could have been smarter, braver, and better, like more or less everyone else, including you and me. But he tried harder than everyone else in the government and most definitely harder than the GOP and the military to keep us out of WWI, and for a long time he succeeded. The dumb German Ambassador Zimmerman really made it impossible for him in the end, as did the intransigent Germans and British elites who didn't seem to object enough to the entire youth of their nations being killed.
Teddy Roosevelt rampaged for years about Wilson's lack of patriotism before Wilson was finally backed into the war, no thanks to Lansing and House. How is Wilson the villain? Is it because you know his name?

When people go to great lengths to do what is right and make sacrifices for it, even if they have other significant failings, I just can't to stop coming to their defense. And it isn't just Presidents--i'd do the same for you. I just know something about Wilson, because you're right about one thing: We got an Empire just a little before him, and what happened during his Presidency set the stage for much that has followed. That seems important to me, assuming there is any chance that we can get out of this mess. Because, you know, the fate of "our nation" and, more importantly, "our children's nation" is looking a little precarious.

Posted by: N E at October 10, 2009 12:55 AM

Bernard, please nominate me for the Nobel peace prize, as I could really use the money.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at October 10, 2009 01:19 AM

look NE

You referred to Wilson as if he was alive when you wrote "disservice to Wilson" (instead of "disservice to Wilson's memory). I was just continuing that. So get off the point.

I simply don't agree with you about deeper issues than Woodrow Wilson. For instance you excused something he did, saying he needed to do it get reelected. This act, that you think is good about Wilson, for me that what makes him a crappy person.

perhaps a useful word is 'demystify', something I do but you do not

When I hear about a HOS joining a war (demystified: condemning other people to their deaths)
so they can be reelected
(demystified: so they can retain power and privilege)
I see this as crappy behavior. But you praise these same acts.

Thus, we fundamentally disagree.

btw, when I looked (back in the 1990) practically every single thing Wilson was involved with (Russia, WWI, labor movement etc) had that same crappy, elitist, gutless attribute.

and yes, I have read things like you cite. stuff like "he just had to do this or that because of mean old Teddy Roosevelt" or "he just had to starve the Belgians for this or that reason". "He just had to arrest those people" and so on. always with an excuse.

in short, the way you write does not convince me. The reverse, really. Your writing is suffused with condescension.

Posted by: Henry at October 10, 2009 01:28 AM


When you call someone for whom I have some sympathy and admiration a crappy person, be prepared to defend the position.

Your opinions of Wilson aren't built on facts.

LABOR: Wilson was derided as close to labor by Wall Street and the GOP and supported it far more than other Presidents before him had. His secretary of Labor, William Wilson, was very popular with labor but not popular with business. Look it up. The liberal progressives supported Wilson over Hughes in the nasty election of 1916 for a reason.

RUSSIA/BOLSHEVISM: Read the Fourteen Points. Wilson refused to authorize a campaign against the Bolsheviks for a long time, enraging the military and Right Wing to the point that they either poisoned him or got really lucky precisely when the situation seemed most critical in Hungary and Germany. Wilson took ill just when the army was most concerned about him not doing anything about Bela Kun or the socialist outbreak in Bavaria. His doctor's initial reaction was that he had been poisoned, but of course, the doctor changed his mind and decided it was the flu. The Black Chamber, published in 1931, confirmed a plot to poison Wilson had been discovered at Versaille. And anybody who doesn't think military intelligence would have poisoned Wilson to prevent Europe from going communist needs his head examined. Pershing had been openly insubordinate about the armistice, which he opposed in favor of forcing total surrender and occupation on Germany, and he had been slapped down by Wilson for it. Teddy Roosevelt had been calling Wilson a traitor more often than WorldNetDaily calls Obama one, and he had done it for years. The army and navy and GOP and Wall Street-all the powers that be--hated or disliked Wilson. Even his own party, full of not just Blue Dogs but Jim Crow segregationists, didn't like his liberalism. You definitely have pegged the wrong person as the one "crappy person" to blame everything on.

World War I: Wilson didn't join a war to get reelected. He campaigned on staying out of the war and then declared war on Germany after the stupid Zimmerman telegram fiasco inflamed public opinion against Germany. He had tried for three years to stay out of the war despite the GOP's constant clammoring for the US to join on the side of the Allies, and despite Lansing at the State Department covertly working with the British to force his hand. Even House didn't fully help him. Wilson's fight for peace was a lonely battle, and sure the left was pissed at him when finally declared war after the Zimmerman Telegram fiasco. They had a right to be pissed at him. World War One was a horror. But unfortunately Wilson didn't have many excuses left for staying out of the War, and he convinced himself that participation of the US at the end would shorten the war and give him leverage to dictate a peace that would avoid such future catastrophes. By the way, he can much closer to success at that outrageously ambitious and noble goal than you realize. He was widely recognized as the only leader in the United States or Western Europe who tried so hard to stay out of the war, and the only leader whose ambitions extended to the welfare of the people of the world as a whole. He was, at that time, phenomenally popular outside the United States. Sure, he wasn't Jesus or Gandhi and had plenty of flaws, stodgy son of a 19th century Southern preacher that he was, and sure he couldn't change the whole face of the world by making some speeches, but to call him a "crappy person" in comparison to all the rest of us is just ridiculous. That you single him out as a "crappy person" has less to do with what you know about him and his administration than what you don't know, which is a lot.

So yes, we fundamentally disagree, but really what you're disagreeing with is history itself. There was a time, when I didn't care about this all that much, when I would have more or less agreed with you or shrugged and had a beer. That was back before I read much but Walter Karp. The view I held then, and the one you hold now, was simply wrong.

Posted by: N E at October 10, 2009 10:45 AM

Henry: YOUR statement "He should have just let them fight it out" HAS TO BE the WISEST foreign policy statement I've ever heard.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 10, 2009 11:55 AM

It's quite understandable some people think that the jokes about the prize are diminishing Obama in the eyes of everyone else, but it's a wishful sort of thinking.

Posted by: RobZ at October 10, 2009 11:59 AM

When did Markos Moulitsas Zuniga start posting as "N E"?

Posted by: The Anti-Federalist at October 10, 2009 01:06 PM

I just want all of you to know that when you criticize our Nobel-winning President, you're siding with the terrorists.

Posted by: SteveB at October 10, 2009 01:07 PM

Steve B: Only in the sense that WE ALL breath oxygen.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 10, 2009 02:49 PM

Woodrow Wilson the non-racist on black protests when he implemented even more segregation (enhanced privacy techniques) than his predecessors in the federal civil service:

Mr. Monroe Trotter. Mr. President, we are here to renew our protest against the segregation of colored employees in the departments of our National Government. We [had] appealed to you to undo this race segregation in accord with your duty as President and with your pre-election pledges to colored American voters. We stated that such segregation was a public humiliation and degradation, and entirely unmerited and far-reaching in its injurious effects. . . .

President Woodrow Wilson. The white people of the country, as well as I, wish to see the colored people progress, and admire the progress they have already made, and want to see them continue along independent lines. There is, however, a great prejudice against colored people. . . . It will take one hundred years to eradicate this prejudice, and we must deal with it as practical men. Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen. If your organization goes out and tells the colored people of the country that it is a humiliation, they will so regard it, but if you do not tell them so, and regard it rather as a benefit, they will regard it the same. The only harm that will come will be if you cause them to think it is a humiliation.

Mr. Monroe Trotter. It is not in accord with the known facts to claim that the segregation was started because of race friction of white and colored [federal] clerks. The indisputable facts of the situation will not permit of the claim that the segregation is due to the friction. It is untenable, in view of the established facts, to maintain that the segregation is simply to avoid race friction, for the simple reason that for fifty years white and colored clerks have been working together in peace and harmony and friendliness, doing so even through two [President Grover Cleveland] Democratic administrations. Soon after your inauguration began, segregation was drastically introduced in the Treasury and Postal departments by your appointees.

President Woodrow Wilson. If this organization is ever to have another hearing before me it must have another spokesman. Your manner offends me. . . . Your tone, with its background of passion.

Posted by: empty at October 10, 2009 02:54 PM

"The Nobel Peace Committee should retire, and turn over its huge funds to some international peace organization which is not awed by stardom and rhetoric, and which has some understanding of history."

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 10, 2009 03:17 PM

Geir Lundestad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee justifying the committe's selection of Pres Obama for the Peace Prize.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 10, 2009 03:35 PM


Thanks for the link, thanks for the quote. That's accurate. No matter the political cost, Wilson certainly SHOULD have told his cabinet that they had to drink from the same fountains as African Americans. He even should have done what Truman did (what Henry Wallace basically formed him to do) in 1948 and desegregated the military. Hell, he should have urged passage of a Voting Rights Act, as Johnson did. Most of all, he certainly shouldn't had said what he did, except maybe the accurate part about how it would take a century to "eradicate the prejudice" that was the heart of the problem, since that was if anything optimistic. (Funny racist statement, that one, acknowledging that the problem was prejudice among whites.) Alas, Wilson was less vicious and racist than most people of his time, and certainly than the real reactionaries common among his Southern supporters and cabinet, in the military, American Legion, KKK, etc. . . It's a pity that he couldn't excuse a man being done a grave injustice for raising his voice about it, but he was an old prim and proper prude from another era.

Some people think the racism was just in the South, but it most definitely was not. (Read Sundown Towns). The South just had some different problems. Read Slavery by Another Name.

Posted by: N E at October 10, 2009 03:49 PM

N E, I am afraid you don't get it. It is not what Wilson SHOULD have done and did not do, but what he SHOULD NOT have done and DID do (Sorry Mike - didn't mean to step on your style). From that same link:

Wilson extended and defended segregation in the federal civil service. Black workers were forced to use inferior and segregated washrooms, and screens were set up to separate black and white workers in the same government offices.

He had those screens set up after decades of black clerks and white clerks working together without those screens.

Wilson did not just stand by on the issue of segregation. He INCREASED it (sorry Mike). He was proud of the fact that D W Griffith quoted him in The Birth of the Nation (“The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self preservation… until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.”) and arranged to have it shown at the White House, commenting afterwards that "my only regret is that it is all so true."

Posted by: empty at October 10, 2009 04:39 PM

empty: NO appology necessary. I'm promoting IT as an artform and HEARTLY WELCOME any contributions.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 10, 2009 06:16 PM

I would like to suggest that "N E" buy or borrow or otherwise obtain a copy of Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power. I would imagine it could help understand how wrongly he's understanding what was going on under Woodrow Wilson's time in the White House.

The circus of Republican vs Democrat was in full swing back in Wilson's day too. Imagine that it wasn't quite as clear then, you'll have an easier time understanding that Wilson wasn't helping anyone move human rights in a positive direction, no matter what some supposedly insightful "history" book might suggest.

I'd also point to the absolute dearth of evidence that Wilson ever did anything to advance human rights -- how this dearth might suggest that "history" texts are embellishments of personal takes on an exceptional view of America.

Posted by: The Anti-Federalist at October 10, 2009 07:01 PM

The Birth of a Nation?
I heard it was like history written with lightning, y'all.

I find myself at the hopeful end of a thread that no one without a penchant for self-abuse in the unpleasurable sense will ever read, so maybe this is an ideal place to express my worthless opinions. Here goes.

What I've really never understood is this.

1) We assume for the sake of argument that the Democratic presidents who we'd like to believe were rooting for "us" actually WERE, but were held up by their vicious cabinets and military and business interests, because the president doesn't really steer the train.

2) So we take this into account, and when we publicly decry the policies of a Democratic president's administration, we carefully refrain from attributing those policies to the president himself, to avoid besmirching his good name. In doing this, we are pellucid that we oppose the actions of the government, not this particular president as a person, who is no doubt kind to children and dogs.

3) What has been gained?

Reiterating, suppose Obama's a secret leftist whose 27-dimensional chess game has been held up by the blackguards he hired to advise him and the people who own this country. We criticize them (or the shadows that lurk behind them) and not him. Are our owners more scared that we blame the system and don't personalize it onto Obama? I just don't see how they care more if Obama isn't there to deflect our rage.

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at October 10, 2009 08:04 PM


I get a kick out of comment sections. I originally made the point you have been telling me as if I don't know it. If you look back in the comments section, you'll see what I said about Wilson segregating the federal government, which of course he did. I don't see much point in saying it again since it's already there, after Donald Johnson's statement that Wilson was racist. I'm very well aware of the whole issue, and I lament that my poor Tolstoy-length paragraphs are wasted, it seems, but alas, somebody interested may happen upon them someday.

Not you, empty, but a lot of people who post comments show a real eagerness to judge people who lived in other times without actually trying very hard, if at all, to understand what was going on then. Of course Wilson was racist. Literally almost everyone was, and most were much more racist than Wilson. That he didn't have the courage to stand up to the segregationist Jim Crow Southerners in his cabinet was of course bad, but it hadn't come up before only because the Republican administrations didn't include Southerners, not because all his predecessors were somehow more enlightened. There was plenty of racism in the North, but it was different. I doubt African-Americans in the GOP-controlled North felt much better about the racism there, especially since they had to live in slums because they by law had to be out of town by dark almost everywhere else. That practice was astonishgly widespread. Again, see Sundown Towns.

Anti-Federalist: I think i'm probably going to just ignore you unless you're funny, which I haven't seen yet, or I get pissed off because I can't find my beer. But snark away; maybe i'll change my mind.

Posted by: N E at October 10, 2009 08:11 PM

Save the Oocytes:

It's not so complicated.

My point is just that no one should think they are going to change anything dramatically without substantially shrinking the military, bringing the intelligence agencies under control, and otherwise putting the National Security State on a leash. Make anyone in the world the President with the same system and nothing will change significantly, because it's not possible for a President to work big change within the confines of the National Security State. In those rare times of crisis when a President might get too close to being able to introduce real change, the National Security State protects itself. It always has, and assuming the past is a predictor of the future, it will again. This does not happen because Presidents are bad; often they are not.

I confess to irritation at broad moralistic attacks on those Presidents who resisted intense pressure from the National Security State or the military under very difficult circumstances, or tried to avoid or end wars, because I have come to sympathize with some of those Presidents' efforts, though that was not my goal in studying them. My goal was understanding how the National Security State has become the Leviathon it is, how it works, how it responds to change, and what can be done about it. My irritation aside, I believe that trashing every President in history almost indiscriminately isn't very useful and explanatory, and it keeps people from understanding the real problem: the steady increase of militarism and growth of the National Security State.

But for the National Security State, I think our government and society would likely have improved by a process of natural evolution toward something much better than what we have now. That process of change has started a few times, notably in the 30s and the 60s, and in both instances the National Security State reacted violently, with World War Two, the Cold War, and McCarthyism in the first instance, with Vietnam, Watergate, and ultimately Reaganism in the second. The National Security State impedes political change and prevents society from evolving to give most people what they want, an ability to live and try to be happy. Instead, we have Empire, which is costly, murderous, and barbaric. And in recent decades, also increasingly deceptive and manipulative.

Though not many readers of this site seem unable to consider the possibility, many Presidents have tried to stand firm against the National Security State at times; none have to date succeeded. Lately, discouragingly, they haven't even tried. I am not yet sure how hard Obama is trying, because the array of political forces supporting the National Security State is so much stronger than those opposing it that even slight resistance is likely difficult now. Assessing the difficulty contemporaneously is made vastly more difficult by the vast overclassification of information as top secret. It's just hard for us to know what is going on within the government, and how our perceptions of reality are currently being shaped.

My view of past Presidents isn't that partisan The Republican McKinley was a good President, and the Republican Harding wasn't bad either compared to the Democrats Truman or Clinton. Of course, things were very screwed up in our government at more or less all times, just not beacuse either McKinley or Harding was the President. When government consistently performs badly decade after decade, the source of the problem must not be the current occupant of the White House.

At ATR, many people seem to want to attack Democratic Presidents in particular because they want to make clear that the Democrats are no damn good either. In general, I agree with that, and I am bewildered when people think I'm taking the Democratic Party line. The DNC certainly wouldn't think so. They would NEVER criticize the military as a whole or attack the National Security State, because they are afraid of it, and for good reason. If they were to challenge it, they would be politically punished.

Everyone can attack Obama if they like, but changing our government and society for the better is going to require understanding the real nature of the problem confronting us, and in the longer term it doesn't have much to do with the identity of the President. That being said, in the shorter term the identity of a President can prove important, because a President does have power if he is smart and politically skillful enough to avoid the traps that will be set for him, and if he has character and courage. But when people make the President the focus of their criticism, the military and the National Security State seem to end up with a pass. Not always, but it strikes me as usually. I don't see a lot of attacks on the Pentagon around here, let alone the intelligence agencies. Historically, our wars and aggression abroad have often been the handiwork of those institutions, and increasingly they have been taking charge of political decisions too, which was formerly done more often through manipulation of elected officials rather than something approaching political coercion. There is a natural tendence for everyone to direct their criticism at the politicians, especially the President, but the politicians are almost like actors. The real problem is the script and the direction and what is going on behind the scenes.

Hope that helps.

Posted by: N E at October 10, 2009 09:53 PM


I don't mean to dive bomb into this discussion but i just want to add my two cents for what they're worth.

Your post right above this one is I think very good and you make a lot correct an obvious statements about the National Security state and the power of such over foreign policy, the president etc...I really don't have any disagreement with you on what you said...I recently mentioned a post by Cliff Floyd about this very subject that is pretty much in agreement with what you say above..see Floyds "Happy Junta Grounds:Militarists Machiavellis Maneuver For More Wars."

My own point of contention with you, and I am only speaking for myself and no one else, is your belief that somehow the president-at least the ones you approve off-are noble warriors who just want to do what is good in the face of the NSS but cant because of the power of the NSS, and if they really tried they would be silenced or stopped in one or another...maybe even killed...Do I have that right as to what you basically believe?

Don't you think that presidents don't get to become presidents unless they have already demonstrated by years of their actions that they have internalized the values and perspective of power or they would not be in the position to be president in the first place....they would never raise the money needed to even make a run at the White House and so on it...So for people to say now-I am not saying you are-that Obama is a victim of those around him and he cant really do what he wants because of those around him is a silly argument since he picked those very people. Obama believes in the righteousness of the American Empire...if he questioned it in any significant way he would not be president...That is just common sense that seems to be confirmed by history...radicals dont make it to the White House...Protectors of wealth and power do. Voting someone different in is not going to change this..not that there are no differences between candidates...So I did not vote for Obama because my state-New Jersey-was not going to vote for the mad bomber...if it looked that way i would have voted for Obama, but as someone said recently, when the choices are between neo-liberal and neo fascists we really need to start looking at the validity of the political process and maybe start to look elsewhere for answers.... Real changes will come about by my massive civil protest and direct action and ultimately by a revolution to change the economic structure of the country....

I assume you don't agree with me on that but thats ok...we all have to choose where are time is best spent and no one has THE correct answer to all of this...

anyway, do i have your views basically correct?-Tony

Posted by: tony at October 11, 2009 12:27 AM

Bush was a figurehead, Reagan was a figurehead, so is Obama, Wilson, all of them; this isn't important. The Republicans cover their missteps with the idiocy of their leader, plausible deniability. Maybe Bush didn’t know he was lying about WMD etc. And because so much is put into the figure at the top, their buffoonery actually acts as a reverse umbrella protecting their crew and the whole system: okay, we got rid of that idiot. Democrats cover themselves by saying their leader was just a coward, got pushed around by his staff or the mean Republicans, was too trusting because of his stupendous idealism. If somebody hypnotized Wilson to make him sign the Sedition Act or ask Congress for war, or showed him a deceptive pie chart or whatever, it doesn’t matter. Obama stocks his cabinet full of banksters and warmongers, yet his supporters imagine this was some innocent error, that Obama is just being tricked by them, that he is not responsible for their actions, as well as any decisions he makes which they might advise him on. Obama is supposedly intelligent. He asked for the gravest responsibility in the world, and treats it like retirement plan.

Woodrow Wilson is not a person, he doesn’t exist. Judging him means nothing to me. Woodrow Wilson, or the Wilson Administration, which are the same thing, is a symbol, an abstraction. It stands for propaganda, war profiteering, tyranny, and it demonstrates the delusion which political fandom engenders.

If you admit that these Presidents are impotent puppets, then that invalidates the office itself, the popularity contest hierarchy. Either way, I don't condone it.

As Henry pointed out, Woodrow Wilson, or the Wilson Administration, or the people who hypnotized that fine man Mr. Wilson, were also responsible for the major financial scams that still plague us, and are intimately tied to the war state.

Barry Obama, though alive, which gives him more claim to existence than the scattered ashes of WW, can hardly be said to exist as a human anymore either. Of course he will not do anything other than what his paymasters hired him to do, that’s why they hired him. Condemning one empty suit, or praising it, is not relevant, not when there are six billion other people, each possessing at least as much humanity. The concentration of power is the problem.

Oh, Tony, I think you mean Chris Floyd, of Empire Burlesque, not Cliff Floyd, baseball player. Not to be a nitpicker, but I’m avid reader of the former, so I don’t mind reiterating his name for any who aren’t familiar.

Posted by: Marcus at October 11, 2009 03:23 AM

Oh, Tony, I think you mean Chris Floyd, of Empire Burlesque, not Cliff Floyd, baseball player. Not to be a nitpicker, but I’m avid reader of the former, so I don’t mind reiterating his name for any who aren’t familiar.

Thank you Marcus!!

I wrote up my post after midnight last night which is late for me and after having a few beers with friends i havent seen in a while so I guess it was Freudian slip since I am a big baseball fan, but given there is no one on the Yankees with a similar name I picked an ex NY Met!

My bad, thanks.-Tony

Posted by: tony at October 11, 2009 09:31 AM

Street on Obama's Peace Prize.-Tony

Barack Obama," the left journalist Jeremy Scahill noted at a socialist conference in Chicago last June, "is an incredibly Orwellian character. He can make people think that war is peace."

Not just people in the United States. Consistent with much of the U.S. foreign policy elite's pre-election calculation that Barack Hussein Obama could provide the badly George W. Bush-damaged "brand USA" a dramatic and instant public relations makeover on the global stage, Orwellian "Obamania" may be more pernicious and persistent overseas than it is in the U.S. The virus has taken on an especially strong form in Western Europe, where "left" and "liberal" hopes (and illusions) about the new administration have burned with special stupefying intensity.

The most recent and ridiculous example is of course the (I think unsurprising) award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama by a "leftish" committee appointed by the Norwegian Parliament. Even Obama seems taken aback, noting correctly in a recent mass e-mail that "I do not deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize."

Those figures include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke in morally clear terms of how the U.S. government had become "the leading purveyor of violence" in the world (April 4, 1967) and who noted that a nation approaches "spiritual death when it spends more on military defense than on social uplift."

It is said that the Norwegians wanted to send a message against the unilateral American imperialism and militarism epitomized by the Cheney-Bush years and to encourage less brazenly hubristic, world-hegemony-oriented behavior on the part of the U.S.

They should have granted their prize to the great anti-imperial U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky, who has spent more than five decades brilliantly and exhaustively chronicling, contextualizing, criticizing, and resisting the policies, structures, and crimes (not just the "mistakes" and strategic missteps) of American Empire, from Vietnam and Cambodia to East Timor to Central America to both Iraq invasions and the current criminal war in Afghanistan, undergoing escalation and expansion under the Obama administration.

Instead, the Nobel committee updated Orwell (and Kafka, Heller, and Vonnegut) by giving the ultimate "peace" honor to an imperial chief executive who has:

* escalated terrorist, civilian-slaughtering war in South Asia, dangerously expanding the war theater (now called "Af-Pak")to include nuclear Pakistan.

* Responded coldly to Afghanistan president's early request that the U.S. stop killing Afghani civilians.

* Promoted a notorious assassin and death-squad leader to the position of Commander of U.S. Forces in "Af-Pak." Lt. General Stanley A McChrystal, former chief of the military's special Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq, was involved in a prisoner abuse scandal in Baghdad's Camp Nana and played a key role in covering up the "friendly fire" death of professional football star and Army Ranger Pat Tllman. According to U.S. empire-critic Tom Engelhardt, McChrystal is "a legacy figure from the worst days of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era" who "comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection."

* Indefinitely continued the disastrous Iraq occupation, pressuring the Iraqi government not to permit the popular referendum required by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) - the withdrawal document forced on the Bush administration by the Iraqi resistance.

* Refused to once acknowledge the criminal, immoral, and illegal nature of the Iraq War or of any other U.S. war, including Vietnam and, of course, Afghanistan ("Obama's Vietnam").

* Sustained the large-scale use of expansive, largely unaccountable corporate-mercenary fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

* Increased the U.S. "defense" (empire) budget (itself responsible for half the world's military spending and the maintenance of more than 760 military bases spread across more than 130 countries), consistent with his advance dismissal (as leading Bush-Obama bailout recipient Morgan Stanley reported last November) of a "peace dividend")

* Refused to rule out approval for an Israel attack on Iran.

* Consistently raised bogus alarms about "Iran's nuclear program" even as he moves forward (as the Inter-Press Service recently reported) with efforts to reconstitute U.S. nuclear weapons

* Refused to in any serious way against Israel's brutal and criminal occupation of Palestine.

* Refused to move in any significant way against a right-wing coup against a democratically elected president in Honduras.

* Repeatedly crafted and advanced arrogant nationally narcissistic "American exceptionalist" rhetoric on the United States' supposed special moral and historical qualifications and duty to run the world's affairs by force when "necessary."

* Repeatedly claimed that the U.S. must not apologize for any of its actions (the worst ones considered well-intentioned "mistakes," never imperial crimes) since it is on the whole "an enormous force for good in the world."

* Repackaged and reproduced essential core aspects of Bush's "counterterrorist" assault on basic human and civil rights at home and abroad. According to Jack Goldsmith, a former Assistant Attorney General in the Bush II administration, Dick Cheney's premise "that the Obama administration has reversed Bush-era [counterterrorism] policies is largely wrong. The truth is closer to the opposite: The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric.... The main difference between the Obama and Bush administrations concerns not the substance of terrorism policy, but rather its packaging."

I could go on but time is short and the list is depressing. "Overall," Scahill rightly noted last June, "he's implementing a U.S. foreign policy that in many ways--advances the interest of the American empire in a way the Republicans could only have dreamed of doing...What people, I think, misunderstand about Barack Obama is that this is a man who is a brilliant supporter of empire - who has figured out a way to essentially trick a lot of people into believing they're supporting radical change, when in effect what they're doing is supporting a radical expansion of the U.S. empire."

The title of the article in which Scahill made these comments spoke a mouthful "Re-branding War and Occupation."

The "re-branding" project is enhanced, of course, by the Nobel Peace Prize.

"Though Obama's leadership has enhanced America's image," an ideologically diverse group of British professors recently noted in a letter to The Guardian, "as yet there has been no major change from the policies and outcomes of the Bush years...Obama presents himself as the ‘un-Bush.' But when you look at substance, rather than style and rhetoric, and the structural constraints on presidential power, you can legitimately question the extent of his ability to change US policies."

"As far as policy is concerned, unless [Obama] is under a lot of pressure from [progressive] activist sectors," Chomsky noted last April, "he's not going to go beyond what he's presented himself as in actual policy statements or cabinet choices and so on: a centrist Democrat who's going to basically continue Bush's polices in a more modulated way."

The pressure has yet to reach anything like the level levels required. The Nobel award doesn't help.

We can hardly expect the Norwegians to rescind their Orwellian gift. We could perhaps ask them to issue an apology to the people of Bola Boluk, who have good reasons to agree with Ahmid Shabir, an 18-yeard old student who yesterday told the Associated Press that "I don't think Obama deserves this. I don't know who's making these decisions. The prize should go to someone who has done something for peace and humanity."

Obama's escalation of deadly attacks on "insurgents" who live intermingled with civilians has brought a predictable increase in "collateral damage" in South Asia. An especially graphic and politically difficult episode came in the first week of May 2009. That's when U.S. air-strikes killed more 140 civilians in Bola Boluk, a village in western Afghanistan's Farah Province. Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives were children. Just 22 were males 18 years or older. As the New York Times reported:

"In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament, the governor of Farah Province, Rohul Amin, said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed, according to a legislator, Mohammad Naim Farahi. Afghan lawmakers immediately called for an agreement regulating foreign military operations in the country."

" ‘ The governor said that the villagers have brought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred, 'Mr. Farahi said."

" ‘ Everyone at the governor's office was crying, watching that shocking scene.'
Mr. Farahi said he had talked to someone he knew personally who had counted 113 bodies being buried, including those of many women and children. Later, more bodies were pulled from the rubble and some victims who had been taken to the hospital died, he said."

The initial response of the Obama Pentagon to this horrific incident - one among many such mass U.S. aerial killings in Afghanistan since October 2001 - was to absurdly blame the civilian deaths on "Taliban grenades." While Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed deep "regret" about the loss of innocent life, neither she nor Obama would issue an apology or acknowledge U.S. responsibility for the blasting apart of civilian bodies in Farah Province.

By contrast, Obama had just offered a full apology and fired a White House official because that official had scared U.S. civilians with an ill-advised Air Force One photo-shoot flyover of Manhattan. The exercise reminded New Yorkers of 9/11.

The disparity was telling. Frightening New Yorkers led to a presidential admission of guilt and request for forgiveness along with the discharge of a White House staffer. Killing more than 100 Afghan civilians did not require an apology. Nobody had to be fired. The Pentagon was also permitted to advance preposterous claims about how the civilians died -- stories that were taken seriously by "mainstream" (corporate-imperial) media. The U.S. subsequently conducted a dubious "investigation" of the Bola Boluk slaughter that reduced the civilian body count drastically and blamed the Taliban for putting civilians in the way of U.S. bombs.

Orwell would have been impressed. He would have been blown away by the Nobel decision.

Posted by: tony at October 11, 2009 09:44 AM

The two tractor trailers of assorted fragments of human corpses is a nice visual. The US turns people into spare parts.

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at October 11, 2009 10:32 AM

I have been a regular reader of Prof Street's articles at ZNet. He is aboslutely and totally uncompromising. In Nov of 2005 he gave a talk at NIU ( an event organised with National day of Action organised by And he has contiued to speak out, at the same time offering action plans to remedy what ails our society.
And like you, I highly recommend his articles to the commenters and readers of this blogsite.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 11, 2009 11:17 AM

A tiny step ( in a long journey) the President can take towards deserving the Peace Prize is to carry out what Prof Dorfman is requesting......

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 11, 2009 11:45 AM


I agree with your comments in this thread. But it'd probably be better just to provide a link to Street's article rather than copying and pasting so much of it here.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 11, 2009 12:00 PM


I don't have much to say about Marcus's argument for the unimportance of understanding the past except to say that the issue for me is not whether Woodrow Wilson or Ronald Reagan or Obama is going to heaven. That isn't why understanding the past or present matters.

Marcus is right about one thing, it's Chris Floyd not Cliff Floyd, that you read. Floyd has some good things to say, because he seems to recognize that the National Security State is our fundamental problem, but I'm not a long-time reader of his, and the other day he quoted an old post of his praising a book by one Gus Russo, which made me wonder about him. A book by Gus Russo is not one I would ever praise or refer people to, but I won't get into that. Anyway, that lessened my interest in Floyd's writing.

One problem I have with not understanding politics and history in some detail is that it makes a person easy to fool for those with that goal. Not having a detailed understanding of events makes it very hard to tell lies from truth. That was my initial reason for beginning to examine history for myself. I concluded that much of what I had believed, what everyone believes, was false. Of course, I had concluded that at a much earlier age too. What I thought as an adult wasn't at all like what I was taught in elementary or middle school, but it turned out to be still largely false, beacuse much of what is written about the past is written by people with an agenda, and those who write history almost universally avoid examining how power is exercised within our society. So we may think we know something about events we have never looked at closely, but we shouldn't be so sure of ourselves.

Much of the truth of history is off limits in ways that go beyond acknowledging genocide and racism, and taboos of course always exist for a reason. In this country, with stability grounded on the public's sense that we have a democracy which validates our massive and growing inequalities, taboos exist to perpetuate the public impression that the government is reprepesenative and democratic, and that the problems with the system are inadvertent and only occasional rather than the chronic result of manipulation and violence. The latter is more accurate.

I didn't really understand much of that at the outset, but the election of 2000, 9/11 and the inception of the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, followed by the again fraudulent election of 2004, started me questioning more fundamental assumptions that we almost all hold, and I set about looking at the past with my eye fixed on power and the interests of power. (The levels of deception were so extreme that they had a jarring effect on me.) I began trying to examine history with that eye trained on the battles within government and events that are glossed over, particularly involving potential state-directed violence, terrorism, and assassinations, successful and unsuccessful. I did so determined to avoid bias to the extent possible so as not to overlook anything. This had led me to see history differently, or rather to see pieces of history that are almost entirely unreported and unexamined.

For example, one who looks can see that McKinley, who was perceived as weak and actually shed tears after the Maine was sunk in Havana harbor, was assassinated by a likely police spy pretending to be an anarchist because McKinley had far too little enthusiasm for the dirty and expensive work of building our Empire, whether in connection with the continuing occupation of the Phillipines or seizing from Colombia the land needed for the Panama Canal or creating a world-class navy. McKinley basically stood in the way of Empire, and he was promptly assassinated. Teddy Roosevelt was the perfect man to build the Empire, what with his unbridled militarism, and he was promoted into the job. Senator Mark Hanna, McKinley's famous advisor, warned that making Roosevelt Vice President was madness, because he would be one heartbeat away from the Presidency. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, aristocrat and scion of the navy, felt entirely differently about the same possibility; McKinley's assassination fulfilled his stated ambition of making his best friend and protoge Roosevelt President, and it served the naval elite's goal of building an overseas empire, consistent with Mahan's theories.

No one will be watching an ABC miniseries about any of that anytime soon. That would be dismissed as a crazy conspiracy theory, the sort of madness only believed by disturbed people, so it cannot even be considered by anyone who wants any semblance of respectability or a public career. And there's a kernel of truth in the charge that only a disturbed person would think such a thing, because what prevents people from believing these things is independent of facts and reason. Not the truth, but the glue of social cohesion keeps people from exploring how power operates in our society.

As an admirer of anarchism, you may be interested that a supposed anarchist was blamed for McKinley's death, but that's not why I mention McKinley in particular. I mention him because he was a Republican, not a Democrat, and he was a capitalist through and through. Had you lived in that time, you wouldn't have voted for him or supported him, and you would have been right not to do so. Perhaps you would have supported Debs, who was a great man, or perhaps you would have stayed clear of organized politics altogether. You certainly would not have thought McKinley was a great man, and you would have been right not to think so.

But none of that means McKinley was all bad, let alone incapable of the courage to do the right thing at crucial times, and it certainly doesn't mean that understanding why McKinley was killed is unimportant. One can see a lesson in the fact that even a capitalist, conservative President has been assassinated for standing in the way of militarism and Empire. The facts suggesting that McKinley was assinated by a militarist cabal would easily support an indictment if the charge involved powerless people rather than extremely powerful people and interests. The possibility that McKinley was killed by a militarist cabal suggests a corrosive presence in society that is still among us and likely more powerful now than ever. The National Security State is now well developed, and its power is greater than ever.

If the capitalist McKinley could be assassinated a century ago for being too weak and too principled to build our overseas Empire, what does that suggest the proponents of the National Security State consider essential in a President? The answer to that question explains why Ron Paul, who would let corporations prey on the populace like wolves, could not even get into a televised debate during his Presidential campaign, whereas a suspected liberal like Obama could. The most significant difference between Paul and Obama is that Obama asserted that the continuation of the war in Afghanistan is necessary for the security of the United States.

I have to go for now, but I'll explain more of my unusual iconoclastic perspective later, because that is not all I have to say about what you asked me.


Posted by: N E at October 11, 2009 12:08 PM


Yes I agree with you...I usually just provide links and will in the future but i felt his comments should be read by all and not left for someone to follow a link, but I hear you and again agree...also i dont know if the links always work because I dont know if you have to be a z supporter to view the articles..


Thanks for that link....that is actually one article of Street's I have not read!!-Tony

Posted by: tony at October 11, 2009 12:14 PM

A very interesting editorial from Middle East Report Online.....

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 11, 2009 01:02 PM

And another take:
Jewbonics: Barack Bags the Nobel

Confusion abounds con­cern­ing Obama’s having received the Nobel Peace Prize. Some confused leftists are worried that he hasn’t yet slaugh­tered enough Brown people to merit the Norwegian laurel. After all, by the time Dr. Henry Kissinger received the award in 1973, the death count in Vietnam—and let’s pretend for a moment that we actually kept track of the burnt little bodies—was somewhere over two million.


Posted by: Max at October 11, 2009 01:59 PM

Thanks for the link and introduction to your website ( if you posted it before, I missed it ).

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 11, 2009 03:11 PM


Sorry to be so long about this, but the question you asked me is very complicated, and you asked.

I am no unqualified admirer of Presidents. I think Presidents are first of all politicians, and characteristically they are full of great insecurities and ambitions. They typically need to be liked, they are cynical, they are often egomaniacs or at least think too highly of themselves, and they think practically to the exclusion of purely moral questions like "the righteousness of the American Empire," to use your words. They tend to avoid political risks like the plauge, tell people what they want to hear, bullshit others and themselves, lie well and easily, sometimes backstab and connive, and yet are often charming and likeable, especially the good ones, who have that ability to connect with you and make you feel like they are there for you. Some, like Woodrow Wilson, lacked great charm but were extraordinarily articulate and smart. Others, like Teddy Roosevelt, were exceptionally charismatic and had the energy of ten men. Still others, like FDR or Nixon, could deft at keeping everyone around them in the dark and guessing while steering a course that was known only to them.

Presidents are NOT moralists, probably not even Lincoln was. They are adept compromisers or they would not survive their occupation. Across a lifetime, not one of them had the character or integrity of Debs. If you are looking for men like that, you have to look to a cause, a movement politician of some kind, as Debs was. Those types of men are different, and if they were ever to have power they would have to change too.

That is not to say that Presidents are never capable of doing something courageous in the interests of others. They are. A man need not be great across the whole of his life to be great at a particular time or in a particular endeavor.
That a man with the failings and limitations as Woodrow Wilson tried to do something for humanity by creating an institution that would prevent another war like World War I does not diminish him in my eyes, and if people had any actual knowledge of how long and how hard he opposed the militarists, both to avoid US participation in the war and to try to prevent it from happening again, they wouldn't be so hard on him. People don't want to hear it, but their criticism is grounded mostly on ignorance.

Lord Acton was right that power corrupts, but he could have added that on occasion it can ennoble too. Some Presidents have taken the power of having responsibility for questions of war and peace seriously, to their credit. That doesn't mean they were great men, or even that they were good men. It just means they did what was right in some instances. I think we should be glad for it. It's small-minded to think that someone can't be a mix of good and bad, or that someone with different beliefs and principles is incapable of doing anything courageous. There is nothing in the world easier than bitching about how others with different beliefs are no good.

Many Presidents have resisted the military, and what has become the National Security State since the Cold War. In the last 60 years, with the possible exception of Cheney and W, the military and the intelligence agencies have been far more dangerous and insidious than even the worst of the politicians. That may have more to do with their function than the character of the men in question, because as President Eisenhower was repeatedly asked by his Generals and Admirals to use nuclear weapons against China, and he always refused. As a General, I'm not sure Ike would have agreed with his own Presidential decisions in that regard. Maybe, but maybe not. A general or admiral has a narrower charge than a President. The military exists to protect the National Security of the nation, and those encharged with that responsibility take it extremely seriously. They might not all be as insane as Cheney with his 1% doctrine, but I do not think they are far behind him. They will do what they think needs to be done to protect the country, and if a President endangers the country in their eyes, the first act of a tragedy has been conceived.

There is certainly an element of my respect for a good many Presidents that arises from the sacrifices they made in trying to oppose the inherent militarism of the National Security State. To some of us who have taken a good look at the battle of JFK against the National Security State, it would take a real failure of the heart not to be grateful to him, or to admire his struggle against a war machine that then seemed bent on nuclear annihilation, with potentially 600 million casualties according to the Pentagon's own printed worst-case-scenario, which Daniel Ellsberg has recently written about. To me, it makes no difference whether or not JFK was a philanderer or even a good person. Most of the slanders against him were invented at Langley, but even if they weren't it wouldn't matter to me. A man who does battle against a vast military bureaucracy to prevent the death of millions of people is not less courageous because he had faults any more than Martin Luther King's greatness is diminished by the dirt J. Edgar Hoover dug up on him. It's the intelligence agencies that are truly scummy. Anyone who reads Ellsberg's current series of articles should understand the levels of insanity that had built up in the Pentagon and at Langley by the early 1960s. JFK did not need to be a great moralist to realize that a nuclear holocaust would be wrong. All he needed was courage, and he had that. Be glad.

There is another aspect to my view too. The social effect of blunderbuss cynicism is bad.
There is enough dreck in our history that we don't need to scoff at those legitimate courageous and heroic acts of some of our leaders. Yes, Wilson's effort to create a viable League of Nations was defeated, and yes it was tained by hypocrisy, but ending war was nonetheless a noble project and certainly not an undertaking that should be derided unless you like war. Yes, there was hypocrisy in Wilson's recognition of the right of self-determination for the people of the world because he didn't extend it to all peoples, but the recognition of that right was still a great advance, and it was his doing. Should we be sorry that he advanced that goal because he didn't advance it farther? Condemn the bad and laud the good.

As for Obama, I don't have any idea what he would do if he really had complete control of the federal government and could do whatever he wants. I'm not sure he even knows that, or thinks about it. I don't think that's how politicians think or what they do. He is engaged in the craft of politics. He has all the warts of an establishment politician, and I think his intelligence and articulateness grate on some people all the more because of it. But I'm glad he is smart and careful, because he is in a pit of vipers. Giving him the Nobel Peace Prize was absurd, because the only legitimate ground for it is that he isn't W, but he may still be doing everything he can to help people and minimize our ongoing wars. I really don't know, or know how I could know, because it all happens behind the scenes.

What I do know is that Obama has shown no sign of being an insane warmonger like Cheney. Some idiot who reads this may take that sentence out of context and argue about it, but anyone who can't see the difference between Cheney and Obama is so clueless that they would just find something else to misunderstand anyway. Whether or not he is any good, Obama is being pressured by the National Security State to be more militaristic, to expand the war in Afghanistan, and to continue a host of policies implemented after 9/11. Those same pressures would be appiled to anyone else serving as President right now too, because they originate within the National Security State. That is the problem. Making Obama the focus of criticism distracts from the real problem. It is quite possible that he is actually doing what he can. I don't know, because I have no way to know, and neither does anyone else commenting here. People just have their perceptions and opinions and gut feelings, which vary from person to person and are no more reliable in someone who dislikes Obama than in someone who likes him.

The National Security State, not Obama, is the great danger of our age. And it is dangerous not only because of its authoritarian and militaristic qualities. It is dangerous becase it prevents necessary political change and impedes the normal evolution of our society towards equality and fairness. It has done that since World War Two, and I assume that will continue. It is no accident that since its creation wealth has increasingly become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. That needs to change, but that doesn't mean it will be permitted to change. If not, there will ultimately be a social implosion.

Right now it appears to me that the military and the elite are at odds with Obama. For that reason, I assume he is doing something right. How much that is true I don't know. The fact that he is perceived as a dangerous leftist radical and has policy positions to the right of Nixon shows the level of social and political degeneration we have experienced. You can thank the National Security State for that. It has vastly too much power, and until that changes no President, not even the greatest and most courageous person in the world, could ever come remotely close to meeting the expectations of most of the readers of ATR.

So love or hate Obama as you see fit, but don't forget what the real problem is.

I hope that answers your question, because I need a nap.

Posted by: N E at October 11, 2009 05:28 PM

shorter N E:

"don't hate the player, hate the game, use a bunch of bookish references, take a nap."

Posted by: sluggo at October 11, 2009 05:48 PM


Thanks for that clever snark. I had a nice nap.

I'm just answering Tony's question, since he asked about my take on the nefarious side of the world. Count yourself lucky that you don't have to read anything I write, which I'm actually sure you don't. If you have any opinions you can remember that you'd like to share, I'll be happy to snark back at you, if that's what you want, or you can just go take your own nap, or maybe just go watch some more cartoons.

Posted by: N E at October 11, 2009 07:26 PM

Somebody DOES have a sense of humour which is rather refreshing!
"Nobel Committee Admits Getting into Derivatives Trading in Giving Peace Prize to Obama"

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 12, 2009 09:01 AM

N E is the sort who can cite hundreds of books he's supposedly read, and he cites to them as if they're infallible authorities.

N E hasn't a single independent thought. N E is a parrot of those whom he finds to be "experts."

This means N E is not an independent voice. Rather, N E is a simple ideological tool of the Democratic Party -- and he's proud of it. He imagines that it makes him a superior being here in America, primarily because he has identified the Donkle as the "proof" of superiority.

It's a tail-chasing argument supporting his perspective, but he's definitely consistent in his reliance on unreliable "experts" and "authorities."

For example, above he denigrates Chris Floyd because of a book Floyd recommended. Not because of Floyd's independent views. Because of a book Floyd recommended.

Let's extrapolate that. N E disapproves of a book, therefore anyone who approves of the book must be stupid, or wrong.

Now let's use that "logic" on N E's views. N E, as I said above, relies on "experts" and "authorities."

Most of those sources seem wrong to me. Therefore by his own "logic," N E must be stupid and wrong.

What a sad failure he is!

Posted by: The Anti-Federalist at October 12, 2009 10:55 AM


wow, go have a beer or take some happy pills.

I didn't denigrate chris floyd. I said somethign fairly positive about him. I said only that i've lost some interest in his site because he enthusiastically praised a book by someone whom I wouldn't EVER recommend to anyone and don't trust. I don't know chris floyd, and as I said I haven't read that many posts by him, and I thought some of them were good. I really haven't tried to study his views across the board, and i probably won't.

Posted by: N E at October 13, 2009 12:14 AM

Nice try, N E. I'm not angry, sad, or anything like what you accuse me of being. What I'd like to know, however, is why you lie so frequently.

I mean, is it because you can't bother to see the truth? Or do you see it, but pretend it's not applicable to you? Which one is it?

Thanks for the flawed attempts at accusing me of things I'm not doing, feeling, being. I really appreciate the extra effort you make to paste me with lies. It's swell.

Posted by: The Anti-Federalist at October 14, 2009 01:35 PM

"After all, by the time Dr. Henry Kissinger received the award in 1973, the death count in Vietnam—and let’s pretend for a moment that we actually kept track of the burnt little bodies—was somewhere over two million."
Let's not forget that Kissinger was Nixon's adviser. That is, he was a Republican. Of course, he wasn't a "real" Republican, like Sarah Palin. He was the kind that are exactly the same as Democrats. No differences. At all. Really.

Posted by: me at October 15, 2009 08:00 AM